Thinking Ahead: How General Assembly Grew Into A Global Education Community
This post is part of NYCEDC’s Thinking Ahead series, which features editorials from New York City leaders and influencers across key sectors and neighborhoods to foster dialogue around the issues impacting our city. Read more Thinking Ahead posts here.
The following was written by Jake Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of General Assembly, a global educational institution whose mission is to build a community of people to pursue work they love through instruction in technology, business, and design.
Established in early 2011 with $200,000 of initial funding from NYCEDC, General Assembly has since grown its classroom to fourteen campuses across four continents. In addition to an online learning option through Front Row, General Assembly's monthly subscription service, over 44,000 students have come through the NYC campuses for in-person classes.
Here, Jake explains how a little help from NYCEDC catalyzed General Assembly's exponential growth and why continued support from the public sector is crucial to economic development.
As we mark our fourth anniversary, it's a perfect time to reflect on the origin of General Assembly.
NYCEDC played a crucial role in our evolution from small community project to global education company.
GA started as a small real estate venture conceived for New York’s tech community. My co-founders Adam, Matt, and Brad, and I felt that the burgeoning tech scene in NY needed a space to gather, work, and learn together. Of course—we couldn’t have known how right we were—by the time we launched, we were completely sold out of space!
As we were developing the plans for General Assembly, we debated how much public space versus work desks to build into our model. On the one hand, public space served our vision and mission, on the other hand, it was easier to build a business plan around desks.
Thanks to a $200,000 combination loan and grant from the EDC, we felt confident enough to build public space into our plan, including a room, which we cheekily called a “classroom.” After we launched, we decided to have actual classes in this “classroom,” and demand for those ad hoc classes turned our focus towards education in a matter of months.
Because of the money and encouragement from the EDC, we are now a business that has raised $50 million in capital, employs more than 230 people in NYC, has already trained more than 10,000 new web developers, designers, and other talent, and brought classes, courses, and workshops to more than 200,000 people worldwide. The EDC’s initial contribution, while incredibly small in venture terms, was a crucial catalyst that allowed us to expand our vision and eventually build a model that could support worldwide expansion and market leadership.
As an entrepreneur, I’m a huge believer in the private sector creating solutions to large social problems, but it’s clear that government can often play an invaluable role as the “sand in the oyster,” the catalyst for initiatives. They can leverage many resources (money often actually being the least interesting) to enable new ideas and innovations to take hold. The City and NYCEDC have pushed towards solving the most pressing problems with approaches that inspire entrepreneurial action.
There is now talk of trying to build a real education innovation cluster in NYC, and with initiatives such as the recent education technology report and roundtable, NYCEDC is once again leading the dialogue on key questions that will help set that path.
The city is home to the largest school district in the country—many of the schools are world-class higher-education institutions—as well as some of the most successful education companies in the industry including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Scholastic. NYC is also home to some of the most exciting new education startups, such as 2U, SchoolNet, Knewton, Wireless Generation, and, of course, General Assembly.
NYCEDC has helped enable the growth of companies like ours and it continues to help build clusters around many important sectors. In the process, it ensures that our city’s economy is truly focused on the future. I, for one, couldn’t be more grateful.
Inspired to pursue work that you love? Let us know what you're inspired to learn on Twitter by joining the #ThinkingAheadNYC conversation. Head over to General Assembly and imagine the possibilities with their online and offline course offerings.